It was either that’s the shit or that isn’t the shit, no matter what kind of music you were talking about. I really liked some pop music if it was the shit. But there was a very definite line of what the shit was and what wasn’t the shit. Very strict.
Keith Richards, Life (paperback edition, p. 94)
So saith the Gospel according to Keef, and who am I to disagree? Our second day at Latitude, the Saturday, was fortunately full of music that was, very definitely, the shit.
Unfortunately, due to a late-running bus (perhaps like our two taxi drivers he was subject to a bout of geographic elasticity when he ran over a ley line: see review of Day One) we only caught the end of Booker T Jones, walking into the Festival itself and all the way up to the Obelisk Stage to the unmistakeable strains of Green Onions. He finished his set with a spirited rendition of Time is Tight, perhaps a comment on the rigidity of set lengths at Latitude (of which more later).
I would have liked to have seen more of the Stax legend, particularly if (as one of the images from the Festival suggested) he switched to guitar at some point. By the time we got there he was firmly installed behind the Hammond, which was turned up to eleven: the roving camera at one point caught the session guitarist’s expression, which suggested he was less than impressed with this turn of events. But then, he not da man. Booker T da man.
Next came something of a cock up on the organisational front which saw us waiting in vain for Afghan Whigs in a packed Radio 6 Tent hot enough to baste a turkey in. We realised our mistake when a largish type with blond highlights bounced on stage and began singing Maneater. Now, your blog had only hazy memories of what Afghan Whigs looked like from a three-glasses-of-wine evening in front of Jools Holland, but was pretty sure a Hall and Oates cover wouldn’t be part of their usual repertoire. Yep, the Whigs were on the other stage, and this was Darryl Hall sui-meme, with presumably Mr Oates in close attendance.
What we did see of Afghan Whigs when we trooped back up to the Obelisk was good, although there was again that sense of the sound dispersing quickly into the vast open spaces beyond the audience. Although they seemed in fine form, and were well received, I couldn’t help thinking they would have been better on the Radio 6 stage, with Hall and Oates delighting their 40-something fans in the sunshine.
Next, food. Regular readers will recall I promised to report back on the food; unfortunately the combination of a four-course tasting menu in Norwich on the Thursday night (good, but a bit fiddly and cheffy in places, and the wine choices were classic French at the expense of a good match) followed by the inevitable big hotel breakfast the next morning and the equally inevitable fish and chips on arrival in Southwold meant your man was, by Friday afternoon, like a bony-armed python still trying to digest a goat (that’s the animal, not the band, Goat: that would be ridiculous). Seriously. No food or drink required for about 18 hours. Daughter and Heiress, with her teenage metabolism, did have recourse to a half pizza with pepperoni that she thought perfectly decent.
On the Friday, however, appetites were back at normal levels, and a short perusal of the many food outlets up and down the slope that led to the Obelisk Stage ensued. The Festival website had not been exaggerating in terms of breadth and variety of selection, although I’m still looking for the tapas. The hog roast on a roll with apple sauce was really good; a later burger from another stall less so. Your correspondent then opted for a lager from one of the bars, who were serving them up in industrial quantities and at eye-watering prices (to be frank, everything in the Festival was think of a number and double it, so you just had to roll with it). On a limited review, then, the food and drink was pricey but good enough.
The hog roast went down to the strains of Oliver Wilde, on the Lake Stage. The beefy bloke with the hair and beard introduced himself as Oliver Wilde. Ah, so the band was called Oliver Wilde, and he was Oliver Wilde! I kind of admired the big chap’s self-confidence. Backed, therefore, one has to say, by four minions consisting of second guitar, drums, bass, and violin, Oliver delivered an enthusiastic performance which almost lived up to the programme’s billing of ‘ethereal, gorgeous music.’ Apparently, his second album – following a brush his own mortality – ‘explores the small matter of the abstract relationship between unrelated things.’ Bristol-based Oliver Wilde is 26 years old.
However, listening to Olly’s ‘melancholic, hushed poetic vocal delivery,’ (according to his Wikipedia entry, which can’t possibly have been put in by his Mum) left room for reflection. As the quote at the top of this indicates, I’ve been finally catching up with the Keith Richards autobiography, and the counterpoint between his tales of what it was like to get started then, and what it’s like for the likes of our Olly now, did have me thinking.
First and foremost, the early Sixties world that the Stones were born out of – blues clubs, jazz traditionalists, folk purists, and a vast, disaffected war baby generation looking for a musical mast to nail their colours to – has long gone. I mean, the blues, jazz and folk clubs are still there, but they’ve been shouldered out of the mainstream by this huge juggernaut that HMV would call rock and pop long ago. The Stones, in other words, were in at the ground floor. And whilst the baby boomers still go to events and buy music – your blog was by no means the oldest swinger in town at Latitude, let me tell you – the way we do that has been splintered and mutated by technology and market forces for decades. Who stays up to hear the singles chart on Sunday nights now?
Second, the tech has become much kinder to musicians. Keith Richards carried a soldering iron to his early gigs to carry out running repairs to his kit; rather unkindly, he suggests the main reason Bill Wyman got in the band was because he had a decent Vox amp to bring to the party, and they couldn’t work out a way to separate the amp from the bass player. Keef had a trusty tape recorder to record demos: astonishingly, he says that even the recorded version of ‘Satisfaction’ had its origins in overloading the tape with a signal from an acoustic guitar.
Nowadays sound equipment is ten a penny, especially second hand; and no self-respecting indie guitarist, however callow, is without his or her pedal board of effects. Which, in terms of producing a unique sound, almost means they have too much choice; ditto their musical influences, which in terms of rock alone, can now mean riffling through fifty years’ worth of stuff. Gone are the days of the early Eighties, when I was just starting to get into student bands, when the scrawled postcards in the music shop window cited the influential Holy Trinity of Lou Reed, Velvet Underground and the Doors.
My point, if I have a point, is that in such a crowded landscape, everything starts to sound a bit like everything else, and even if the means of getting the music to an as-yet unadoring public weren’t complicated enough, the sheer volume of material coming at music fans via the internet means everything has to be packaged, categorised and labelled in some sort of way to provide a thread of meaning through the noisome clatter. Hence monikers like post-punk, indie, fusion, psych, yada yada… love the Rolling Stones? You might like, er, the Beatles.
Whilst that may be our friend Oliver Wilde’s problem, our next band, Bombay Bicycle Club, are well on the way to pulling themselves up from the depths of the tangled undergrowth into the upper branches of mainstream visibility. I find it quite hard to describe BBC’s sound, having seen them twice live now; it bases itself on the interplay of two guitars in true rock style, but the riffs are spiky, complex affairs, sounding at times almost African-influenced (particularly on one of their best known tracks, Always Like This). Similarly their rhythm section can do far more than deliver simple four-to-the-floor rock beats, switching to a bhangra feel for Shuffle, for example, and of course the Bollywood-influenced Feel.
As they were limited to an hour (one suspects the main headliner, Damon Albarn’s, request that he play longer put paid to any suggestion that they play an encore for the ecstatic crowd) the set was a tightly focused hits package; the three songs already mentioned, plus a rapturously received How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep, and Carry Me, being other highlights. It was, we thought, a fitting end to our two days at Latitude – daughter and Heiress’s favourite band.
However, the Festival had one more surprise for us, as, on our way past the Lake Stage, we were arrested by the sight of a more than decent sized crowd going radge bongo (a technical music reviewer’s term, I believe) for Catfish and the Bottlemen on the Lake Stage. Confusingly described in the programme as ‘hotly tipped English kids hailing from Wales,’ further seconds of research suggests the band members come from places like Accrington, Sheffield, and, er, Australia. Frontman Van McCann (the one from Oz) formed part of the reason for us to stop, look and listen: a proper climbing-the-walls-with-his-guitar kind of frontman, he generated enough energy to power the amps, the stage lighting, and half the surrounding food outlets all by himself, and still have something to put back into the National Grid.
Partly also it was the sound they generated: songs like their current single, Rango, a good old, old-fashioned, heads down, no nonsense bit of rock and roll. The Sage of Deptford himself would approve, I reckon. They play the Caves, Edinburgh, on November 12 amongst other places.
Daughter and Heiress and I had just the best time at Latitude this year. If the reviews above carp a bit about sound quality, that’s not to detract from the musical enjoyment to be had. Just as importantly for your Festival Dad aged 51 ¾, the whole atmosphere of the place was relaxed, friendly, and safe-feeling. Having heard horror stories of T in the Park (the previously mentioned sledges of alcohol, the early morning cavalry charge for the newly-cleaned toilets) there were some fatherly apprehensions as we approached on the first day. These soon disappeared. There was very little drunkenness to be seen, and the only drug-taking we experienced was the two girls in front of us at Bombay Bicycle Club sharing a spliff. If that’s the worst that happens, and a bit of jumping around if you’re in the thick of it, I think the organisers have done all right.
We will be back.
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Ah, I remember the first article I ever wrote, well done.